Looking for the best heart surgeon in town? Kitipan Visudharom, better known as "Dr. Kit V Arom", would be the very first one recommended by international patients who have undergone heart surgery in Bangkok.
Actually, he has gained a reputation as Bangkok's leading cardiothoracic (heart and chest) surgeon only in recent year-30 years before, his patients and medical colleagues recognized him as one of the best surgeons in Minnesota (the US)
What's the proof? How about his being a recipient of the 1999 Minnesota Humanitarian Award, the first non-American winner of this prestigious honour, which is conferred annually to the two most outstanding figures in the state, one in medicine and the other in humanitarian advocacy.
Several years ago, during his three decades living and working in the US, where heart disease was and still is a leading cause of death, Kitipan founded two important medical organizations contributing to the improvement of professional practice in the treatment of heart disease.
Kitipan, who declines to give his age, saying only he is married with two grown-up sons, is the founder of both the Minneapolis Heart Institute & Minneapolis Heart Institution Foundation and the Minnesota Society of heart disease.
When he established the heart institute, only six heart surgeons were working at the new medical facility, which specializes in the treatment of the killer disease, but by the time he left for Bangkok, his hometown, the institute had up to 60 reputable specialists.
Back in Bangkok, Kitipan started by joining the Bangkok Hospital as chief cardiothoracic surgeon of the hospital'S heart institute, which was later developed into the Bangkok Heart Hospital.
Of course, no one else could be more suitable to be the director of Thailand's first hospital of heart disease than Kitipan, who was the one who made it happen.
Officially open to service in August 2005, the hospital provides all types of services to patients-child or adult-with heart problems, ranging from a heart failure prevention clinic to heart surgery using the latest robotic technology.
Moreover, Kitipan also leads his highly qualified team of about ten heart surgeons, not to mention dozens of other heart-disease specialists, in providing experimental stem-cell therapy for close to 100 end-stage heart failure patients, who are mostly Americans.
The experimental stem-cell therapy is a medical trial, which has been conducted jointly by the hospital and the University of Pittsburgh in the US since 2005 and is reaching the end of its first phase.
Born in Bangkok, Kitipan graduated with a degree in medicine from the country's oldest medical school at Siriraj Hospital and then went to the US for training that led to his certification by the American Board of General Surgery and the American Board of thoracic Surgery.
After his graduation with a PHD in surgery from the University of Minnesota, he was also chief cardiothoraeic surgeon with several heart hospitals in the state.
Apart from his chairmanships of many professional associations, Kitipan has also published over 200 articles in the field of heart disease.
When asked how many patients on whom he has performed heart surgery so far, Kitipan takes a moment to calculate and then says matter-of-fact-ly. "Between 200 and 300 a year over the past 25 too 30 years."
"It's incomparable to anything I could think of," he answers after another pause when asked to compare heart surgery to any other career he could follow.
Isn'T the work stressful? The answer is, "No," at least to the heart surgeon named Kitipan, who always enjoys himself by listening to the background music he requests to be played in the operating theatre.
The best part of being a heart surgeon, he says, is, "It'S always challenging, indeed," he says.
“The most difficult part of my work has always been to explain the truth to the patient and his or her relatives and particularly to get them to understand and accept it.”
If it really becomes a break through in the search for better treatment of heart disease. It's still too soon to tell; yet the experimental stem-cell therapy offered by the Bangkok Heart Hospital, a private hospital specializing in the treatment of heart disease, has gained in popularity-especially with American patients.
Since the first treatment carried out in May 2005, the hospital has performed this stem-cell therapy on a total of 97 patients in the end stage of heart failure that no linger responded to conventional treatment.
The hospital requires just three more patients to reach the targeted number of 100 subjects to complete the first-phase trial of stem-cell therapy, trial that is being jointly conducted with the University of Pittsburgh.
In the treatment, stem cells harvested from the patient’s own blood by a laboratory in Israel are injected into a total of 30 spots in the patient’s heart where scars on the heart-muscle are identified by Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance Imaging.
The goal of this treatment is to replace, repair or improve the function of the damaged heart tissue in a patient with end-stage heart failure.
The preliminary conclusion of this trial is that the therapy is safe and feasible, says heart surgeon Kitipan Visudharom, who as director of Bangkok Hear Hospital, is leading the study.
In fact, patients treated with this therapy show a considerable decrease in areas of “infarction” or scarring on the heart and also demonstrate improved heart function and overall quality of life, he says.
At the end of the first-phase trial, presumably by the end of May, the research team will submit the results for review by international peer-reviewed journals, including the Asian Cardiovascular & Thoracic Annals.
Then, the team plans to move forward to the second phase of trials that will be aimed at assessing the efficacy of the treatment with adult stem cells derived from the patients own blood.
"By the end of May, this study will be, as far as I am concerned, the first in the worked that follows up in the patients as long as two years after treatment," says Kitipan.
Out of 97 patients receiving the stem-cell treatment, which had previously been proved safe by a number of similar studies in Europe, only four (4.1 percent) died within a period of 30 days after treatment, he says.
Most patients in this study were males averaging 60 years of age. The majority (65 per cent) came from the United States, where such treatment has yet to be approved.
One of the American patients undergoing the stem-cell therapy in this study in Bangkok was the late legendary Hawaiian crooner Don Ho, According to media reports, he was treated in December 2005 to repair his ailing heart. Ho eventually died of a heart attack at age 76 on April 14, 2007.
Kitipan is very optimistic that what his team is studying will become the next treatment for the end-stage heart-failure patients in the foreseeable future.
Scientific evidence obtained through this joint study is continuously sent to the University of Pittsburgh, which is responsible for submitting the findings to the US Food and Drug Administration.
"Many patients have been waiting for so long for something the can offer them a ray of hope. That's why they come here," says Kitipan.
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